A conversation with Jim Walsh
of Food and Water Watch
The name of your organization is Food & Water Watch. What issues pertaining to food are you watching most closely in New Jersey right now?
On the food front, we are supporting a bill that would require labeling of genetically engineered foods in New Jersey. We are part of a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations working on this issue. Many people are concerned about the lack of independent research on the public health impacts of genetically engineered foods. The Food and Drug Administration relies on industry studies to verify the safety of these foods, which is wholly inadequate.
Labeling is the bare minimum of action needed for genetically engineered foods. Giving consumers basic information they need to decide whether they want to purchase genetically engineered materials to feed their families is the right thing to do.
One of our primary concerns is development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in New Jersey, in the region and around the world. For those who don’t know, fracking is a form of natural gas and oil extraction that involves pumping millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals deep into the Earth’s crust. There have been numerous instances where drinking-water sources have become contaminated due to this extreme drilling process.
Although there is currently no fracking occurring in New Jersey, there are large natural gas deposits in the Newark Basin, which stretches through major sections of central and northern New Jersey. New Jersey has also become a dumping ground for fracking waste from other states, which is known to contain radioactive elements, heavy metals and known carcinogens. Although this waste is highly toxic, due to lobbying by the oil and gas industry, it is actually exempt from federal hazardous-waste laws.
The New Jersey legislature has passed legislation to ban fracking and fracking-waste dumping in New Jersey. But Governor Christie, caving to pressure from the oil and gas industry, has refused to sign either of these bills into law. Many advocates are now working to get the legislature to override the governor’s foolish veto of the fracking-waste ban.
With the rise of the local-food movement in recent years, have you noticedany changes in how aware New Jerseyans are of local environmental issues?
We do a tremendous amount of grassroots outreach and it is clear the public is more aware of these issues than they were even a few years ago. As a matter of fact, I believe public awareness is growing about an entire range of environmental and consumer-rights injustices that are happening in the world around us.
I am finding that people are not only more educated about the challenges we face as a society, but are also starting to get more active in efforts to change the status quo and make the world a better place to live. We have local volunteer groups that meet monthly to plan education and outreach activities to boost public awareness of these issues, and I hope some of your readers will consider attending a meeting near them.
On a personal level, how much do you think about the food you eat and where it comes from?
Food is an important part of my life, and I make conscious decisions about the foods I eat. As far as my diet is concerned, I have been a vegetarian for well over a decade and have been vegan for the past few years. Besides eating a plant-based diet, I enjoy a few different outlets for local foods; growing my own in a small garden, weekly shares from a CSA, and shopping at the George Street Coop in New Brunswick. My concern with food does not stop at my stomach, as I have served on the board of the George Street Co-op for eight years, and I have served as the policy chair for the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance.
When you cook, do you have a personal specialty?
There is not one dish that I make that really stands out, but I really like cooking in a cast iron skillet or in a Dutch oven, depending on the dish. One of my favorite things to cook in the skillet is roasted Brussels sprouts. In the Dutch oven it’s paella. —Jared Flesher
Jim Walsh is the Eastern Region director of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to ensuring that the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. Learn more at foodandwaterwatch.org.